Friday, July 22, 2005

Hillsborough County and Gay Pride Display: Some Thoughts

A library student puts up a display for Gay Pride Month, and it triggers a firestorm as the library board decides to ban the display and make policy so as not to acknowledge the event. Readers can read about this through LIS News. The comments are just as interesting as the story itself, evidence of how diverse the views of librarians and others interested in libraries can be. Here is the link to the story about the librarian reading banned books with a bullhorn, and I think readers can make it from there. In the latest development, the Florida Library Association has declared a boycott of the Tampa area until the library rescinds its policies. I dared to make a comment, which I reproduce here:

"I just love the idea of that person reading with a bullhorn, nice and defiant. On the responder asking why is this a big deal, for it is about advocacy, all I will say is the library is a public space, a community space. As such, it should give space to everyone or deny it to everyone. If they deny this particular group, they should be denying display access to everyone else (religious, cultural, social services, and so on). It is not a mere matter of advocacy; the library is providing a part of the community space and it is also providing information on a topic that is clearly important and significant. If this not part of what a public library should be doing, I am not sure what is. I am making a note of those Four Pillars, something sadly we see not only in the articles today, but in so many stories of challenges to libraries or their texts. Nice editorial by the way. Best to all. "

At the end of the day, people will pull out their definitions of concepts like "advocacy" and "collection development" and so on. Readers can choose their favorite dictionary. I am not bothering with placing a definition or two here. What I will say is that at the end of the day, this boils down to a form of censorship pure and simple. People can say it was only a display, or they can say it carried a message and debate what the message was. But by eliminating the display, they are saying, we have these books, but we don't want you to know about them. Regardless of where readers stand on the political divide, hiding information and materials is not the way to go. I can only wonder how long before they quietly decide to begin removing such books. The argument may be if they are not advertised, then they will not be read. If they do not circulate, why have them? You should have them because you are supposed to promote and encourage the presence of various points of view. That is what a library, especially a public library in this country is supposed to do. Do I think it is a "free for all"? No, I do not. I know decisions of what to put in the collection have to be made and are made all the time. But that is what professional librarians get paid to do, and while I know librarians are human and that they have views, they should strive to give access to as many diverse points of view as possible, even if they disagree. Does it become advocacy? Only if the opposite point of view is not represented as well.

The problem comes then when it becomes discrimination. Because discrimination is not something that we as a society should tolerate. Peter Gamache of Tampa expresses very well the need to stand against discrimination. It is interesting to see the op-ed piece after another piece with the exact point of view. I am not someone who is eloquent or about to go on a crusade, and I sure am not a talking head. But I know that discrimination against one group is wrong. It is a simple thing really. And as a librarian and an educator, I see it as my task to use my skills to educate to help eradicate discrimination in any small way I can. If it makes me an advocate, which from some parts of the debate seems to be bad word, then so be it. I have been called worse (you hear all sorts of things in public schools). Some people will say, "but it is against the Bible" or against other religion and so on. I will simply say what I have often said before. If your faith moves you to make this a better world by helping out your community and embracing your neighbors in love and charity, good for you. If on the other hand, your religion moves you to be a bigot, to condemn some, to hate others in the name of your deity, then you can keep it to yourself. Your right to believe it, my right to educate others against it. Initially I was going to say my right to ignore it, but discrimination is not something you ignore. It needs to be confronted. I guess this is what concerned me so much over this. It concerned me because the policy is one that discriminates, and in my book, that is not right or fair.

I guess this post went on a bit longer, but it was important, to me at least, to think some of this through. I can see where I stand. On a final note, I also like the idea of the boycott. I think it addresses nicely those who say that the library has to adopt such rule so as not to alienate those who pay the taxes or the levy. If it boils down to economics for the county, they can likely do without the business of the association's librarians. It is a good message that of the boycott because it does go back to the economics, and another form to say that discriminatory policies are not acceptable.



1 comment:

Perspective of Pete said...

It is discrimination, not only because of its components (what I call the 4 Pillars of Discrimination that support it), but also the processes that actuate it (negative rhetoric, divisive policy, myth perpetuation, blaming/shaming) and the outcomes (personal and social). It is also applicable toward the discrimination of every group, be it people with disabilities, the elderly, gays/lesbians, races, etc.). Alas, we are living in a time when there is little debate about substance and are instead dealing with bias. If we have learned anything in our relatively short time here, it's to not only say what you think but explain why--the very essence of education. Social exclusion is either the cause of or fulcrum for every negative, preventable outcome. In 2005 it's far past time to tie all the strings together and demonstrate how an efficient/effective system is dependent on everyone.